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How to Make
Create the Mood

1859 ball gown
under construction

I rarely use commercial patterns but research original items, look at pattern books by recognised authorities and check small details by looking at online auctions of originals and paintings, and going to museums. These are the techniques I am using to make this multi-layered outfit.






August 1860
Godeys Ladies Book
from a miniature painting
crinoline shape
1852 Queen Isabella II of Spain, by Winterhalter
1860's Queen Isabella II of Spain
overbodice and stomacher

1864, from a miniature painting
by Eugen Felix

1851-3 Princess Boglie by Ingres

back decoration
1864 dress back - rosette and loops
1865 - surface decoration became more exaggerated as the years went on
1859 Mrs Ingres

crinoline cage

Prototype crinoline cage made from wedding dress steels (metal covered with white plastic) with curtain rufflete tape for the verticals.

I did not like the bulge at front stomach which shows up even more when the petticoat is put on top.

Laces in the centre front mean that when it is unlaced the crinoline drops straight to the floor.

version 2 in progress:
The horizontal plastic-covered hoops were replaced by crinoline steels in version 2.
Whilst these are heavier they will not collapse as you move around. (video - see the purple dress at 0 - 1.00)


The centre front is flatter.

The centre back and side tapes are labelled at waistline.



When you sit on the edge of a chair the crinoline settles down evenly around you.

If you sit back the hoops are distorted.

distorted hoops
to be continued    




an original chemise


gathered back


1860 original with plain yoke band
1859 corset cover with similar neckline

1859 Godeys Ladies Book:
instructions for modifying a chemise

pattern given with these instructions

Reproduction, modified, in muslin: all the paintings show the lace trim of the chemise, or maybe the corset cover, at the dress neckline.

The neckline must be cut out very small - the hole can be made larger, not smaller.



Once I had tacked the sides and tried it on I realised why the back was gathered into the neckline - it fitted everywhere except over the bust-line.

So a fabric piece was added down the back.

fabric added
to be continued    


tiered skirt

The 3-tiered skirt was made from sari fabric that had printed borders which give a similar effect as the prints used in the late1850's. Since it is made from polyester it washes well and hardly needs ironing.
[no petticoats underneath in pics ]



As you sit down the skirt puffs up because it has trapped air underneath.

Gradually the fabric settles gently down around your legs.

Due to the shape of the crinoline the skirt is 1 inch shorter at the front than the back: it is taken in at the waistline so that the layers are even all round.
to be continued


bodice pattern

The bodice pattern was taken from a Victorian bodice that was in very poor condition but which was about the right size and shape.



I removed fabric pieces that had been added when it was used in a theatre and took the old bodice apart, labelling each part.

Each piece was ironed and copied in spare fabric with an extra 1" added at the centre of each piece to fit.

bodice taken apart
bodice fittings
All fittings were done over the corset that will be worn with the dress.

I put the toile bodice on and off a few times making small adjustments each time to get the wrinkles out of the fabric.

To make repeated fittings on myself easier I pinned in a temporary hook and eye band as the front fastening.

fitting 1 - front, before
front, after

fitting 1
, before

side, after
fitting 1
, before

back, after

With shot fabric the fabric must be the same way up on all pieces so that each catches the light in the same way.

to be continued

As a final check before sewing I pinned the bodice pieces together and tried it on with the corset and crinoline.



the corset
two examples of 1890's corsets of similar construction which gives a small waist and rounded hips.

I made this corset some years ago and have worn it many times in an unfinished state. I used this opportunity to complete the edge binding and make minor modifications. The pattern I used, from Jean Hunnisett, left the back without bones. I found that additional bones were necessary to kep the back smooth.

Over the years I have put on weight and it also showed a little wear, so it needed other small adjustments. Due to the complex construction the back is the only place that it is possible to add extra width. (The newly inserted fabric is not immediately visible as I always keep fabric left over from making each costume for future amendments.

This style (late Victorian) gives great emphasis to the waist which flatters my body shape. It is very comfortable to wear as it fits like a glove. 1850's/60's corsets produce a more rounded waist-line.

The bones were covered with red tape so that it the structure would be clearly visible for demonstrations and talks.

inside corset, being refurbished
The fabric is coutil.


The front is closed with the same busk as the originals, (metal eyes and buttons on two slightly flexible metal bars that link together).

Victorian ladies had rounded shapes. So the hips are not constricted, but moulded into rounded mounds, and the bust is lifted and contained, but not constricted.

The layout of the bones produces the fashionable body shape of the day.

This fan layout lifts and rounds the bust


Three types of boning were used: firstly Victorian style metal spiral bones used in the front.

I had little body fat when I first made the corset and found that the spiral bones were quite uncomfortable in wear. So thinner, more flexible, nylon rigelene was used at the back. The ends were melted slightly near a candle to prevent them working their way through the fabric over time.

spiral boning

rigelene boning, end melted

Washers are put behind the metal eyelets on the inside to help stop them being pulled out when the corset is laced tightly.

Boning (plastic-covered metal wedding dress boning) is placed in channels either side of these lacing holes to stop the fabric wrinkling when the corset is laced firmly.

wedding dress boning

For further information on making authentic Victorian corsets I suggest looking at these sites:

* Victorian corset patterns
* a series of short articles showing how to do details, for example metal eyelets
* draft your own corset pattern from scratch
* Jean Hunniset costume book of patterns drawn to modern figure shape and theatrical techniques, reviews,
* another corset book review


sleeve inspiration
The sleeve back just touches the crinoline skirt; the inside comes just above the elbow and is gathered a little.
The pattern is taken from a 1859 Godeys Ladies Book
ball gown chart. (Dress at top of page)

is this the left or the right sleeve ?

It was isolated from the other pattern pieces and then enlarged to the size given on the pattern using the computer.

second fitting:
length reduced, pattern folded horizontally and sides adjusted.

The sleeve was cut out in waste fabric and pinned onto the draft bodice.

to be continued




overbodice - 1. pattern

Original childs overbodice:
is very small and needs to have a pattern taken which can then be sized up.

which is the front and which the back?

buttons on the outside, hooks on the inside with holes on the other side.

The button-holed loops and big hook are more recent additions

boning up the centre
shoulder strap is worn on the very edge, or even off, the shoulder
making the pattern from original  

I traced around the original taking care not to touch the fabric.

I labelled the parts immediately as it is easy to forget once the pieces are turned in different directions

then put the pieces together

overbodice pattern fittings:

To make the overbodice look like the paintings some of the pieces needed to be enlarged.

Splitting the smaller pattern keeps the basic shape.

pattern enlarged

pattern enlarged, modified and re-drawn
to be continued    


overbodice - 2. pleating



The style of pleating used as inspiration for this project is from the portraits of 1851-30 and 1864, which have similar styled designs. These give a very luxurious and rich feel to the edging.
(see inspiration, above)



Pleats are made with reference to the grain of the fabric - work with the grain to get sharp-edged pleats. On some dresses the edges of the pleats are pinked.

I calculated from these portraits and some initial experiments that the appropriate width of the pleats is 2 inches. Narrower than this becomes too fiddly in this polyester fabric; wider than this becomes visually overwhelming as I am not tall.

If you would like to know how to make this type of Victorian pleat do contact me for details

pinked box pleats 1860-61

pleat test 1 and 2:
12 inches of fabric becomes 2 inches of pleating.

By calculation:
*** yards of fabric cut into 2.25 inch strips, to allow for the pinked edges, is required to edge the overbodice front, neckline and back.

pleat test 1
pleat test 2:
more space between each pleat and ironed half-way through the process to make those straight edges that catch the light.

The pinked edges are made by hand with a late Victorian pinking machine. This is quicker than turning in and sewing both edges of the ***yards of fabric strip. Hemmed or pinked strips of fabric can also be sent to a commercial pleater for pleating.

I used the pinked edges as guides to make the pleats, which is quicker than measuring each pleat with a rule.

This fabric frays quite easily so I had to decide whether to paint anti-fray substance on the pinked edges or leave them.

1 - washed and ironed
2 - painted with dilute PVA glue
3 - painted with fray check. I have found in the pastthat this option leaves white marks

making pleats
The polyester was not easy to control as the fabric is slippery so care was necessary at every stage to get straight lines.

A 2.25 inch width 'ruler' was cut from firm cardboard. With a tailors chalk pen the strips were marked on the fabric, then cut.

Some fabrics will allow a thread to be pulled out so the cut can be made along the gap made. Quilters use a specially designed wheel to cut fabric.

Thinner cardboard was cut to 2.25 inches and the centre marked. This is used to guide marks along the centre of each strip, which are then joined.

centre line marked with yellow quilting pencil



marks joined
This line is a guideline in pleating and when sewing the pleated strips onto the overbodice.

Tacking stitches along the yellow line now mark the centre of both front and back of the fabric.

This is semi-permanent: the drawn line might come out as the fabric is handled and an ironed line would be flattened as the pleats are ironed in.

to be continued


overbodice - 3. stomacher

changeable silk dress mid 1840's
Kyoto Institute


I placed the fabric on a hard surface, face up, and taped it down so that it could not move.

I covered it with dress-makers carbon-paper, taped that down and then a layer of smocking dots, also face down, and taped that as tightly as possible.


I transferred every other dot by pressing each with a round-ended metal knitting needle. That seemed as though it would give the correct 'look'.

This process was rather tedious but I felt that ironing could distort the papers as they were very old.

I used the same honeycomb stitch as in the Kyoto example. This takes advantage of the sheen on this polyester fabric.

By the 4th row the smocking pattern began to emerge.

first and second row
Smocked panel almost complete


overbodice - 4. put elements together
to be continued    



bow at back waist
I analysed two images, and looked at more, to understand the construction and sizes of the rosette and ribbon loops

rosette base:

box-pleat ribbon
box pleating using a piece of cardboard and an iron on the ironing-board

to hold the pleats down catch each with stitch in matching thread, pull tightly

rosette - add box-pleats to base

ribbon loops -
The top row of loops are 4 inches wide: the rest are 8 inches wide

I added gold fabric lining to give a glint of gold under candle-light!


rosette and loops; the 4 inch loops are made separately and sewn directly onto the rosette base.


Put together and sewn onto rosette base.




Subsequent loops are sewn onto lining fabric to reduce bulk at the waist. This lining fabric is then sewn onto the rosette base.

The mess underneath will be covered up when all loops have been completed.

to be continued    


full details

to be continued
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last updated 16 November, 2011

Create the Mood